What leaders can learn from athletes

CEO of Allianz Suisse, Severin Moser, speaks with former BBC interviewer, Nisha Pillai about what it means to be a former olympic athlete, and how the experience shaped his leadership style.

Severin Moser
Severin Moser
Main Banner The Agenda Podcast Severin Moser
The Agenda Podcasts

The Agenda brought to you by Sherpany uncovers the journey leaders take from facing challenges to making decisions. In this unique series of podcasts, leaders talk candidly with former BBC World Service interviewer, Nisha Pillai. #Leading together

In this podcast episode, you will hear:

CEO of Allianz Suisse, Severin Moser, talking about what it means to be a successful olympic athlete, and how this experience shaped his leadership style. In his opinion, there is a clear connection between the discipline of athletics, and success in business. He has never been afraid of being challenged, and has always accepted honest feedback from his coaches, his management team, and his employees, too. Here are a handful of the topics covered in this podcast that will help you to get inside the mind of a former olympian and current executive director:

  • The link between being a world-class athlete and being successful in business
  • How sports builds up character and drives focus on weaknesses and strengths
  • Why honest feedback and being challenged is natural part of the process of self-improvement
  • On new ways of working, during and after the pandemic, and on the role of a CEO.

Insights on what leaders can learn from athletes from Severin Moser

The common thread between athletics and leadership

"Most of the athletes think about what they want to achieve in their sport, so they might decide to compete on a local, regional, national, international level. [...] In a way, before starting with their training, they think about what are the goals for the next training period. This is very similar to what we do in business. We also have, on a yearly basis, a planning session. We have a mid term strategic cycle where we think about what we want to achieve until, let's say, a certain point in time."


Being challenged through honest feedback

"If you get challenged, it's the question on how you get challenged and by whom you get challenged. I think if you get challenged for a good reason, then obviously it's an enrichment for me as a CEO to get challenged because I do not know everything. I'm not aware of everything which goes on in my company. So if a customer or a broker tells me, listen, I made this and this experience with your company, then I have to be honest and to see how we can improve on this, because otherwise we are not further developing as a company. If I would not accept being challenged, how could we then develop as a company?"

If you get challenged, it's the question on how you get challenged and by whom you get challenged.

The role versus the responsibility of a CEO

"I think it's one role within the company. Obviously, it's an important role, but I do my job as others do their job as well. So from that point of view, one should not think that one has a more important role in a way than others. So my business is to lead the company and others to treat customers in the case of a claim, etc. 

Obviously, when you ask about the responsibility, that's different. You know, I'm fully aware that I'm responsible for a company of three thousand five hundred employees. So if we do something wrong or if we have a compliance issue which triggers questions on the reputation of the company it's not just me [...].

There's one thing probably all future managers should keep in mind. And this is to be yourself and stay yourself. Whether you are a manager on the team level, on a larger level, a writer or a CEO, just stay yourself . Do not change your behaviour, your attitude, your personality just because you're a CEO or just because you're a high ranked manager. That's normally not natural and people detect that relatively quickly."

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Severin Moser
Severin Moser
About the author
Severin Moser is Chief Executive Officer of Allianz Suisse. Previously he was Chief Executive Officer of Allianz Versicherungs-AG and Member of the Board of Management of Allianz Deutschland AG, responsible for P&C. Currently, he is a member of the statutory supervisory board of the largest Swiss health insurer, Helsana Group.